Posted Tuesday 5 March 2013
Universities should do more to encourage women to study mathematics and sciences, according to playwright and author Bonnie Greer who has just been appointed Chancellor of Kingston University. She will succeed eminent director Sir Peter Hall, who is taking on a new role as Patron of the University.
"It's crucial that women continue to take up the study of science and maths as historically they have been kept out of these professions, so who knows what genius has been lost?" she said. "When you think of all the big problems that are out there waiting to be solved, every ounce of human intelligence is needed. I think of myself as a kind of science onlooker, my second novel was about a scientist, and I love, for example, experimental physics - maybe even more than the arts.
Born in 1948 in Chicago, Ms Greer's early career saw her study theatre under David Mamet. She reflected on this period of her life in the memoir Obama Music, published in 2009, which doubled as a warning to the then new United States president not to forget his own Chicago roots.
Moving on to become an award-winning playwright, she has penned more than a dozen plays for BBC Radio, a short film for BBC2, a documentary for BBC television, two novels and a biography of the writer and social activist Langston Hughes. She has also turned her hand to acting, playing Joan of Arc on the Paris stage.
Not content with writing, media commentary and acting, she is also an accomplished musical performer. Her play Marilyn and Ella, about the friendship between Marilyn Monroe and Ella Fitzgerald, was staged in London's West End in 2009 - the same year she performed her oratorio Greco/Davis at the London Jazz Festival. She is also on the board of Jazz Warriors UK.Ms Greer has lived in the United Kingdom since 1986, becoming a British citizen in 1997. She was awarded an OBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours in 2010 for her contribution to the arts and, the following year, was named one of the UK's Top 300 Public Intellectuals.
A regular contributor to Sky News Paper Review, BBC2's The Review Show and Radio 4's Any Questions, she also writes occasionally for London's Evening Standard, The Guardian and Daily Telegraph. Ms Greer sat next to the British National Party leader Nick Griffin when he appeared on the BBC's Question Time in 2009, a broadcast that provoked mass demonstrations outside Television Centre. She said she decided to take part in the controversial screening because "as the daughter of a Mississippian who had to leave his home state because he spoke his mind, my denying another person freedom of speech - no matter how abhorrent their views - was not an option."
Ms Greer said she was keen to play an active part in the university in her new role. Her predecessor Sir Peter Hall, who founded the Royal Shakespeare Company, built close links with Kingston's Rose Theatre, ran masterclasses and was instrumental in developing a postgraduate drama course.
"To follow the name of Sir Peter Hall is, believe me, overwhelming and a great honour," Ms Greer said. "Having a playwright follow a legendary theatre director and producer keeps the theatre as a major part of the University."
She is, however, interested in every aspect of the University's life, including its championing of entrepreneurship. "I'd like the world to know that Kingston is number one at this," she added.
As a playwright, novelist and President of the Bronte Society, Ms Greer has, for several years, been an associate of the University's Writing School. She said she hoped to continue to work closely with it, focusing on the playwrights Ibsen and Strindberg. She has just completed two four-year terms as a trustee of the British Museum - the second as Deputy Chair - and would like to see Kingston establish links with the Museum.
Vice-Chancellor Professor Julius Weinberg said he was impressed by Bonnie Greer's enthusiasm and energy. "She is someone who has shown leadership in the arts, is passionate about the sciences and has made a stand for the power of free speech and civilised argument," he said. "Bonnie stands for all those values that are important to Kingston University - a place where lives can be changed, opinions challenged and where we think learning can make the world a better place - so I am delighted that she has agreed to become our Chancellor."